How to Make Herbal Salve

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Two of my favorite medicinal (topical) herbs are plantain and comfrey. And that’s basically what the above picture is – the healing properties of plantain and comfrey in a portable, stable form! What are the healing properties of plantain and comfrey, you ask? Good question.

Plantain reduces inflammation and acts as an astringent, making it wonderful for use on stings and insect bites, as well as rashes and burns. It is commonly known as a weed, and can be found almost anywhere.

Comfrey is also known as “knit bone” because of its ability to speed healing of wounds by encouraging new cell growth, as well as being anti-inflammatory and acting as an astringent.

Herbal salves are awesomeness. They condense all the healing goodness of the herbs into concentrated, spreadable green stuff that’s easy to store and use. Who wouldn’t want that? Here’s how you can make a healing herbal salve!

Healing Herbal Salve

You’ll need:

  • a crock pot
  • glass jars
  • cheescloth or another kind of fabric for straining
  • olive oil
  • vitamin E oil
  • beeswax
  • dried or fresh herbs
  1. Gather and dry whatever medicinal herbs you have/want to use. You can do your own research, but some ideas to get you started (besides plantain and comfrey) are echinacea, jewelweed, or calendula. You will need a lot of dried herbs.
  2. Crumble the herbs and fill a jar 2/3 full. Unless you have a super tall crock pot, you’ll probably have to use pint jars so they can be nearly submerged in the crock pot. Side note: the full jar in the picture is probably too full. 20160916_183410
  3. Fill the jar with olive oil so it has about 1 inch of headspace, and put a lid on it.20160916_183814.jpg
  4. Place it on a fabric scrap or rag in the bottom of a crock pot (I’ve always done this, but I’m not sure if it’s necessary… that’s what happens when you learn a skill when you’re 13… six years later I’m not sure if I made that part up or not.  😉 ) and place the jar inside. Fill the crock pot with water and heat on low for 2-3 days. Keep the water level as high as you can. The water should not be boiling, as this diminishes the properties of the herbs. This is called infusing your oil. 20160916_184104.jpg
  5. Let the infused oil cool a bit, and strain out the herbs with cheesecloth. 20160920_201128.jpg Discard the herbs and put the oil in a double boiler so it maintains a warm temperature.
  6. Add a dash of vitamin E oil and beeswax. A rough estimate of how much beeswax to use is 1 oz beeswax for 8 oz infused oil. 20160920_203638.jpgWhen the beeswax is melted into the oil, take a spoonful out and let it cool in the fridge for a few minutes. Once it is set up, test the consistency. If it’s too soft, add more beeswax. If it’s too hard.. either make more infused oil to balance out the amount of beeswax you put in, or deal with it. From experience, hard salve is better than runny salve! You can melt hard salve with your finger, but runny salve can escape from tins and get pretty messy. Keep testing until you get it right!
  7. Once the consistency in your cooled spoonful is right, pour the salve into labeled containers to cool. And that’s it! This stuff seriously works, guys. Go have some adventures and know that your salve has got your back in case you get a tad too adventuresome. 😉

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How to Make Pumpkin Puree

Jan and Andy gave me a huge pumpkin last week (a Tan Cheese Pumpkin… strange name, but it has amazing color and tastes great!), and I thought I’d share how to make pumpkin puree! 20160902_115204

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Slice your pumpkin in halves or quarters, depending on how big it is.20160908_090938.jpg
  3. Scoop out the pulp and seeds. (You can save them to roast and eat or perhaps plant next year, like I’m doing!).20160908_091038.jpg20160908_091317
  4. If you’ve got a large pumpkin you’ll need to slice it into more pieces for baking. And if your pumpkin is 14 pounds like mine was… you might have to cut it into 12 slices. 20160908_091556.jpg
  5. Lay the slices in glass baking dishes, and bake at 375 degrees for 50-90 minutes, or until they are soft when you stick a fork into them. 20160908_092247.jpg20160908_115124.jpg
  6. Let cool for a bit, then spoon the insides into a food processor (a blender might work too?). Process until smooth. If the pumpkin isn’t blending or seems too chunky, you probably didn’t cook it long enough. Stick it back in the oven for a while. 20160908_120548.jpg20160908_121524.jpg
  7. And there you have it! You can store your puree in the refrigerator for up to a week, or freeze it. But I’d suggest you turn it into pies or bread and eat it. 😉 20160908_123039.jpg

Stay tuned for my pumpkin pie recipe later this week!

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How to Make Onion Powder

I’ve been learning about the difference between storage onions and non-storage onions. These guys are wala walas, which are super sweet but also don’t keep for very long. When I finally got around to pulling all my onions, a lot of my wala walas were starting to get soft, meaning I had to use them pronto!

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What do you do with a bunch of non-storage onions that are starting to get soft? Dry them, of course! I’m working on turning most of my extra onions into onion powder for cooking and herb mixes. Here’s how it’s done!

How to Make Onion Powder

You’ll need:

  • a dehydrator or warm oven
  • a food processor, coffee grinder, or blender
  1. Slice your onions as thinly as you can, 1/4″ or thinner. These were from one of my first attempts, and they’re actually too thick. Some of them didn’t dry completely. If you have a mandolin slicer, I’d use that. 20160814_174029.jpg
  2. Put them on dehydrator trays or cookie sheets, and dry in the dehydrator or the lowest setting in the oven until completely dry. 20160814_170601.jpg You’ll know they’re ready when they crumble instead of bend when you try to break them. I found that the thicker slices got brown like you see in the picture, but didn’t dry as well as the thinner ones which stayed light-colored.
  3. Grind them in a food processor, coffee grinder, or blender until powdered. I used our Nutribullet, and it worked fabulously. 20160814_171351.jpg20160814_172519

There you have it! Wonderful onion powder. If your powder clumps together, most likely the onions weren’t completely dry before you ground them or your spice bottle isn’t tight.

You can also make garlic powder in this same way, which I’ve been doing as well! It just takes longer. But it smells amazing!!

 

How to Predator-Proof a Chicken Shelter

We’ve got lots of raccoons. And lots of ‘possums. And probably lots of other varmits, too. So when the chicks/chickens (when do they graduate from chicks to chickens? They’re only half feathered out currently, but they’re getting chunky) get moved out of the brooder and into the shelter it needs to be as predator-proof as possible. Especially since the area I’ll be running the shelter is surrounded by woods and out of sight from the house (anyone recognize this area from this spring when we put up those fence posts?)!

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The weak spots are:

  • Gaps between the shelter’s base and dips in the ground
  • Loose roof sections
  • Chicks that sleep too close to the sides with chicken wire. The coons can reach in and grab the chicks, apparently.

I won’t go into the gory details, but you can actually tell what kind of animal got your birds by how you find the remains (if any)! My goal, however, is to avoid that as much as possible. So I’m addressing each of the weak spots before I have a predator attack.

To keep varmits from coming under the shelter when it’s sitting on uneven ground, I’m keeping a stash of wood blocks on top of the shelter for plugs. Each day when I move it, I’ll check for gaps under the shelter’s edges. If I find gaps, I’ll plug them like this.

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To keep the roof sections tightly closed, I’ll have a 5-gallon bucket of water sitting on them, and if it becomes necessary I could put a concrete block on top. Although I want to avoid that if at all possible, because that is one more thing to worry about when moving the shelter.

Then to keep the coons from grabbing chicken nuggets through the chicken wire, I came up with this idea:

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In “Pastured Poultry Profits“, which is the blueprint for my operation, Mr. Salatin says that the chicks tend to sleep on the north-east corner of the shelter – this one.

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Probably because that’s where the feeder will be, and also because it has a solid roof.

My solution to coons reaching through the wire is an experiment. I want to see how long tulle will hold up outside…. because yes, I am the kind of girl who racoon-proofs a shelter with tulle she’d cut off an extremely poufy formal dress. I’d saved it for…. something…. but I hardly imagined it’d be tacked to a chicken shelter!

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It’s not stretchy, and it’s pretty strong. I stapled it with a staple gun to the shelter on the open west end and the north-east corner. We shall see what happens! I may take it off a few weeks into it, when the birds are bigger.

And that’s it, my friends! Do you have experience, ideas, or warnings for me about predators and pastured poultry? I’m always open to suggestions!

How to Build a Chicken Brooder

Today my Dad and I built a brooder for my 77 chicks that are due to arrive tomorrow! I don’t recommend waiting that long to fix up a place for your chicks… but that’s just how it happened. There are a million ways you can make a brooder, but this is how my Dad and I made mine. 20160530_194353

  1. Assess the situation – your needs, your situation, and your materials. Figure out how big your brooder needs to be by allowing at least 0.25 square feet per chick, up to 4 weeks old. I’m getting 77 chicks and decided I wanted about 40 square feet . My dimensions ended up being 58″ x 120″, which is about 48 square feet. Take a look at where you can set your brooder up and the factors that will influence it, like ventilation, predators, power, space, etc. I decided to put my brooder in our garage because I can easily control ventilation, it has power, and it’s close to the house. But we have a cat living in there and my Dad wants the garage to look and smell as though nothing happened after the (used) brooder is taken down. So I knew that I’d need a way to keep things clean (I used 3.5 mil. plastic sheeting on the floor and sides) and tight (deer netting for the top). Now, see what materials you have around that you won’t have to buy! Remember, a brooder is a temporary home for the chicks. It doesn’t have to be super sturdy or pretty. We were able to find almost everything we needed from scraps and extra bits of wood, and only had to buy the plastic sheeting and staples. 20160530_101748.jpg
  2. Build the frame. I hoped to make mine two feet tall, but the materials we had (a mixture of plywood and particle board) weren’t quite big enough so it’s more like 22 inches high. We used the garage wall as one side, and each corner had a different kind of support, for no reason except we used what material we had and weren’t to particular. Here are the corners:20160530_10233420160530_10333020160530_10514820160530_105456.jpgWe used two pieces for the long side and reinforced it like this:20160530_103517Not high quality, but it’ll hold! Here’s the finished frame: 20160530_105534.jpg
  3. I lined the inside with plastic and added another reinforcement across the middle.20160530_162745.jpg
  4. Put in the bedding! I used wood shavings, and this is an entire 3.5 cubic foot pack. I’d say it’s about three inches thick at the moment, and I’ll be adding more as the chicks get it dirty.20160530_163213I tested out my heat lamp, and when it was in this position for about 15 minutes the bedding was at 95°F, when it only needs to be at 90°F to start off with. I ended up moving the lamp up and to one side, clamped on an old lamp stand of my Dad’s.  20160530_163524
  5. I decided to use deer netting for the top of the brooder. I stapled one long side to a board mounted horizontally on the garage wall (instead of screwing and stapling things to the garage drywall). To keep the netting  cat-proof (and other-animal proof, if anything gets into the garage) but still easy to open, we wrapped the netting around two 2x2s on each short side. This weighted it down and made the netting taut. 20160530_18351020160530_183525For the final long side I used five rubber bands and five thumb tacks, each evenly spaced and rigged up like so:20160530_185911.jpgIt’s pretty tight when closed, but still easy to open.  20160530_194353.jpg
  6. Next is the step I haven’t reached yet: just add chicks! (and food, grit, water, heat, and a watchful eye…)

How to Use a Mason Jar to Test Your Soil

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Today my mission was to see what kind of soil makeup we have in different “environments” on our land. I also wanted to see what factors – natural and man-introduced – produced each type of soil. I decided to test soil from:

  • Immature woods with lots of Japanese Honeysuckle
  • A garden that’s been mulched and tilled and had copious amounts of manure added to it for nearly 15 years
  • Fields that have grown mostly soybeans under conventional farming methods for about 15 years

Since I don’t have fancy soil testing equipment or a lab, I did a simple mason jar soil test that shows the amounts of clay, silt, and sand in the soil. Loam is considered ideal soil for gardening, and it’s made up of approximately 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand. Darker soils have more organic matter than lighter soils.

How to Do a Mason Jar Soil Test

  1. Fill a mason jar (or multiple jars from multiple locations) about half full of soil. 20160504_083542
  2. Cover with water to an inch or two above the soil.
  3. Shake it up well then let sit for 1 – 12 hours, until it’s settled into layers. I let these sit for about two hours. 20160504_170945_001
  4. Assess your soil situation! The top layer is the smallest particles – clay. Next is silt, and the bottom layer is sand. Determine the approximate percentages of each and compare them to loam, which is 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand. Also, check out the darkness of your soil. The darker it is, the more organic matter it contains.

 

As you can see, none of these soils comes even close to the “optimal” 20%, 40%, 40%. And yet the woods grows fabulous Japanese Honeysuckle, my garden produces tons of tomatoes, butternut squash, and green beans, and the field grows plenty of soybeans. So while a test like this is a good way to see that I could stand to loosen up my garden soil, in the end… perfect soil is far from necessary to grow a wonderful crop! Instead of worrying about getting my garden soil to the perfect ratio, I’m just going to add as much organic matter as I can, till as little as possible, and grow food in it!

Now, let’s look at each sample individually. 

The soil from the woods had a loose, fine texture and it’s dark from lots of organic matter. This area of our woods has a constant covering of decaying leaves on the ground, which is stirred occasionally by animals passing through. There was about three inches of amazing soil on the top, which was what I collected, but right underneath was a layer of rocky soil.

My garden also has a nice layer of decaying organic matter on top, but below about three inches it’s still heavy from all the clay. However, I was thrilled to find about five earthworms in the small shovelful of soil I stuck in the jar! That’s great news, because those earthworms are loosening and aerating the soil.

This field hasn’t had a cover crop or laid fallow for at least 15 years, and each summer it goes through tillage and plenty of chemical fertilizer and weed killer. It’s grown soybeans almost every year, so I’m sure the nutrients are all out of whack. There was no sign of earthworms and very little decaying organic matter in this soil.

To sum it up:

A mason jar + soil and water + 2 hours = a better understanding of your soil! (This also makes a fabulous science experiment.) The “perfect” soil has 20% clay, 40% silt, and 40% sand… but perfect is far from necessary! Take care of your soil by keeping it covered and refusing to use chemicals on it, and it will serve you well.

Homemade Chick Waterer

Being the thrifty person I am, I decided that spending $5-$20 on chick waterers for my broilers was quite unnecessary. And thanks to Pinterest, I found a way to make chick waterers with unused things we already had around the house!

Homemade Chick Waterer

Supplies:

  • A clean gallon or half-gallon jug with an air-tight lid (I used a 1 gallon vinegar jug)
  • An old frisbee or shallow round pan with a diameter about 3-4 inches bigger than that of the jug’s base

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1. Punch one small hole close to the base of the jug. You do not want two or more holes because when filling the waterer you will need to stick a finger over the hole to keep the water from overflowing while the lid isn’t closed. And unless you’re very handy with your fingers… I wouldn’t recommend trying to plug two holes, man a faucet, and hold the waterer all at once. Things get a little wet, trust me.

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2. Working quickly, use a glue gun to attach the bottom of the jug to the inside of the frisbee or pan. If you don’t have a glue gun I don’t see why other glue wouldn’t work, as long as it’s waterproof!

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That’s all there is to it! One interesting thing I found is that the water feeds nicely into the frisbee without overflowing when the lid is closed, but when it’s open (even when you’re filling the waterer) it will overflow if you don’t plug the hole in the bottom with your finger. Below are pictures comparing what happened when the lid was closed (first picture) and then when I opened it (second picture).

This size of waterer (circumference of the frisbee is 28 inches) will be good for 20-25 new chicks, but by the time they’re 8 weeks old they’ll (ideally) need at least three times the waterer space to ensure no chick has to go without water at any time.

A waterer like this would work for grown chickens as well, as long as you found a way to elevate it to the proper height (ideal height is at their back – they’ll have to reach up a bit but it greatly reduces spillage!).